Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, August 23, 2004

Sporting issues
Big sporting weekend, and well done to the Boks for finally putting 5 long years of drought behind us! Firstly, I want to weigh in on the grand Rathbone debate, and have a chat about general sports administration in the country.

Clyde Rathbone's departure to the land of the sheep 18 months ago was met with hardly a ripple from the local sporting media. There were the usual laments of 'another one we let slip', but none of the intense vitriol that is being bandied about at present. Let me first lay my cards on the table. Rathbone had every reason to be jaded by the rugby administration in SA and the lack of player job security, and if his decision was based in his reasoning that rugby is a professional game, and he has merely chosen to ply his profession in another country, then so be it. The problem for him is that the South African rugby public do not treat rugby as a profession, they treat it as a yardstick of their society, which patently, he shares no blame for. However, the fact that he has made short work of trashing South Africa as a dangerous place to live begins to illustrate where the media is coming from.

Rathbone raised a disturbing point in his interview on Fox Sports Australia ascribing his 'defection' partly on the South African race quota system. To me, this is an incredibly naive view. We all know that true transformation can only take place from the bottom-up, training and nurturing young non-white talent to bring them through the ranks as future Springboks, but this is a long-term solution. If anybody thinks that the wider SA and international public would have sat back and allowed South Africa to continue fielding all-white teams in the decade after the 1994 elections, they are being short-sighted. Quotas have served their purpose in placing the onus on the unions to develop black talent and give them the experience in substantial competition. This again comes back to getting around the nuances of racism. It is the easiest thing in the world for a coach or union to say that they "have no black players that are yet good enough" to play first class rugby, and it is this nuance in view that keeps non-white players down. The quotas had to be put in place to get around these subtle perceptions, and in my view, they have been very successful in doing so. Yes, many coaches do not need quotas to get them to field black players, and yes, many black players are playing international and Currie Cup rugby purely on merit, but you cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. The quotas force coaches and unions to come out from behind their often blinkered perceptions and find real solutions. I am in favour of a sunset clause for the quotas, but I do feel that they are a requisite in South African rugby, and Rathbone's comment shows a lack of insight into the nature and history of South African rugby.

But Rathbone does raise a bigger issue in terms of the appalling history of administration in SA sport. Sport is so important to the national psyche, whether it be soccer, rugby, cricket, or any of the other sports, but we have been disastrously let down by administrators. It seems as though sports administration in SA is seen more as a political vehicle than a sporting structure, and there are simply too many egos and too much politics where there should be none. Professional teams demand professional structures, and we are sadly lacking in the latter.

The recent swimming debacle is a case in point. Our 4 x 100m Olympic gold medal swimmers are apparently going to be hauled over the coals on their return to South Africa because they did not wear a sponsor's costume in their final. This from four guys who have received very little assistance from Swimming SA, three of which have been forced, at their own expense, to train in the US, and after they break the world record and do more to lift the sport's profile than anything Swimming SA has done, are given the cold shoulder. An opportunity to give swimming in South Africa a healthy kick is torpedoed by administrator politics. It's a sad shame...